Andersonville Visit in Review

Okay, so it has been a while since I have been able to write. What can I say? Life actually does get in the way of the good intentions that I have. I also still need a new laptop which will help me blog with more ease. Right now I have a desktop and a laptop. While the desktop for the most part is functional, it’s current location completely disrupts anything my daughter tries to do with life, like go to bed. I miss having my own home office. The apartment we moved to here in Virginia is amazing, but it’s small, and there isn’t enough space to really get the work done at home that I would like to. For instance, I’m outside right now on my patio typing this up on the laptop that won’t act right. So the struggles, as first world as they are, are real.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t let you know what I’ve been up to. In February, I had my second appearance at a site within the National Park Service. For me that was huge! I kept having to pinch myself and say, “I can’t believe that I get to present at a National Park site”. It was great. I was at Andersonville National Historic Site to give a presentation as part of their African American History Month programming. Stephanie Steinhorst, interpreter and Ranger extraordinaire  contacted me a year prior, asking if I would be interested in doing a program and a session for a local high school. I agreed, a little nervous and more than excited. It took a lot of doing but finally the pieces came together and after speaking to Stephanie and Eric Leonard, (chief interpreter) on a conference call, we figured out that I would talk about Life after Emancipation. What was most interesting about the site was that it was the worst Confederate prison during the Civil War. I don’t know how many prison were going around hoping to be voted “worst” but the history of Andersonville gives it that title, and yet, being the “worst” brings the history to life. I will never forget taking a tour of the National Cemetery there with Eric and being introduced to the month of August. In the 14 months that Andersonville Prison was open (from February 1864 to April 1865), about 13,000 Union prisoners died. 3000 Union prisoners died during August 1864. It took my breath away looking at one side of the cemetery and seeing 3000 tombstones knowing that on average 100+ soldiers died a day that month alone. Moving is not a strong enough word to describe what that scene was. Andersonville also held approximately 150 United States Colored Troops and this was something that was actively being discussed at the prison site.

White headstone

James Gooding, courtesy of Andersonville NHS

Civil War to Civil Rights (Ranger Chris Barr) was a program taking place the same day I was presenting “What It Means to Be Free” and it pained me that I did not get to take this tour (I had to prepare for my talk happening right after) but it gave visitors a thorough history of the African American experience in and around Camp Sumter and the town of Andersonville. The stockades for the prison were built with slave labor, and after the war, the prison site was occupied by newly freed blacks. African Americans were also the first to preserve the site and to make sure that one never forgot what happened there. Emancipation Day 1869 was detailed in an account by Rev HW Pierson. ( To read more, check out posts provided by Ranger Chris Barr from the site’s facebook page) The staff at Andersonville National Historic Site are not only making a conscious effort to talk about slavery and the roles of African Americans at the prison, they are making it look easy which is what all sites should strive to do. The narrative fits seamlessly into the complete story of the prison and I was just happy to be a part of their ongoing work.

Now why I was I there? Well to talk about life after emancipation meant to African Americans. There were struggles and triumphs, but most of all there was the will to succeed. The absolute fortunate thing for me was that a wonderful woman there, Camille Bielby, who is among other wonderful things, a reporter for the Americus Times Recorder, and she wrote up a great article (okay I’m slightly biased) about the program. I had an amazing time at ANHC and want to thank Stephanie, Eric, Chris and Superintendent Brad Bennett for all of their hospitality! Check out the article here and make the trip down to Andersonville National Historic Site for a great lesson in history.

Supt. Brad Bennett and I. photo courtesy of Chris Barr

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